Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

International aid can’t arrive soon enough for the Central African Republic by Washington Post: “More than 630,000 people in a nation of 4.5 million have fled their homes, and tens of thousands are living in miserable and dangerous conditions at the airport in Bangui, the capital, or in other improvised camps. Just 6,000 African and 2,000 French troops provide what passes for protection and order in a country where the state has collapsed. The U.N. force, which will consist of 10,000 troops and 2,000 police, is not due to deploy until September.”

U.N. Considering Sanctions Over South Sudan Massacre by AP: “The U.N. has said hundreds of civilians were killed in the massacre last week in Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity state. The top U.N. aid official in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, has said ‘piles and piles’ of bodies were left behind. Security Council members watched a video showing bodies lining a street and the interior of a mosque where civilians had sought shelter from rebel forces taking control from government troops amid ethnic tensions in the world’s newest country.”

Sacrament of Fiction: On Becoming a Writer and Not a Priest by Nick Ripatrazone: “I write for many of the same reasons that I wanted to become a priest. I want to bear witness to a sacramental vision. I want to admit my life as a sinner. Rather than judge others, I want to use empathy to sketch their imperfect lives on the page, and find the God that I know resides within them. Similar to the life of a priest, there is a space for silence in my writing life, but also a time of engagement with both reader and place.”

The Leadership Emotions by David Brooks: “Certain faculties that were central to amateur decision making — experience, intuition, affection, moral sentiments, imagination and genuineness — have been shorn down for those traits that we associate with professional tactics and strategy — public opinion analysis, message control, media management and self-conscious positioning.”

Does America need a raise? by Charles Clark: “Catholic social thought and its preferential option for the poor also offers strong support for increasing the minimum wage. The Catholic claim that workers deserve a just wage as a matter of justice, and not as charity, is based on the argument that wages should provide sufficient resources for meeting the material and spiritual needs of workers and their families. It is this teaching that the U.S. Catholic bishops have pointed to in their recent efforts to call on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.”

The World’s Toughest Job by Amber Lapp: “In a mobile society where family is often far away and friends don’t have enough time to become much more than acquaintances before the next big move, how do parents manage? As Senior documents, parenting expectations and pressure are at an all-time high. And yet community support is at an all-time low. There is no village to raise the child. And parents are struggling with the demands.”

Working with the Vatican against modern slavery by John Kerry: “When we embrace our common humanity and stand up for the dignity of all people, we realize the vision of a world that is more caring and more just — a world free from slavery.”

Joint canonization encourages politicized Catholics to bridge divides by John Gehring and Kim Daniels: “If Catholics who vote differently lower our defenses and learn from each other, we can find common ground when it comes to urgent moral issues like poverty, abortion and immigration. If we speak together as Catholics first, we will offer an important and enriching voice to the American political conversation.”

Francis encountering curial opposition, cardinal says by Joshua McElwee: “”Expressions like ‘What can it be that this little Argentine pretends?’, or the expression of a well-known cardinal who let slip the phrase, ‘We made a mistake,’ can be heard,” Rodríguez said, making an apparent reference to a cardinal who regrets the selection of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as pope.”

The Case for Divorce Reform by William J. Doherty: “Modest, common-sense divorce reform is something all Americans can support.”

Pope John saw off the prophets of gloom by Cardinal Turkson: “Pope John XXIII locates peace in the dignity of every human person and in persons in relationship – where justice governs relationships and people embrace the dignity of every person, there peace begins to reign.”

Sharing the Vision of Saint John XXIII by Randall Rosenberg: “John XXIII significantly broadened the Catholic imaginary, and this broadening is illuminated by the metaphor of friendship. He helped to reframe in significant ways the Church’s relationship to modern economic, political, social, and cultural developments; the way we think about the papacy in more evangelical and less bureaucratic terms (along with a healthy dose of humor); the way we tacitly understand our relationship to other Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc.; the way we think about social justice in global terms; the way, indeed, we think about the church in global terms. At the heart of his deepening of the Catholic imaginary, I suggest, is his loving, yet critical, friendship with the modern world.”

A Catholic push for a higher wage by Richard Trumka and J. Cletus Kiley: “Economic policy making that keeps with the Catholic tradition prioritizes those who struggle the most. The Fair Minimum Wage Act set to be debated by Congress this month is a common-sense proposal that will help working families, expand the middle class and reflect our nation’s best values.”


Around the Web (Part 1)

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Jesus and the Bullied by Brian Pinter: “Jesus, by his own example and preaching, empowers us to move beyond being bystanders, to embrace and shield, through bold but loving action, those suffering under the yoke of bullying and taunting.”

New Philippines cardinal calls for church to turn toward poor by  Joshua McElwee, NCR: “The Catholic church must fundamentally reorient itself to place its institutions and financial resources at the service of the world’s poor, one of the 19 new members of the select and powerful group of church prelates known as the College of Cardinals said. ‘The origin of the church is poverty,’ said Philippine Cardinal Orlando Quevedo. ‘And the journey of Jesus Christ was the journey with poor people.’‘Today, the church has riches, institutions,’ Quevedo continued. ‘But I would like to think that the only way the church can redeem these resources as well as its institutions would be to place them at the service of justice and of the poor for the sake of the kingdom of God.’”

The Real Meaning of Marriage Preparation by Andy Otto: “So what makes for good marriage prep? Primarily, it’s a chance to communicate with each other about major topics like managing conflict, forgiveness, finances, intimacy, faith, communication and values.”

Bishop: Synod questionnaire shows most reject teaching on contraceptives by Jerry Filteau, NCR: “Even the ‘choir’ — the 78 percent of respondents who said they attend Mass at least every Sunday and holy day (including 9 percent who said they go to Mass every day) — overwhelmingly said that most Catholics they know do not accept church teaching on natural family planning and birth control. Of all respondents, only 13 percent agreed that Catholics they know accept church teaching in that area; 81 percent disagreed, and 6 percent said they were uncertain or declined to answer.”

Why I am Leaving My Other Full-Time Job by Beth Haile: “In the era of the ‘nones,’ how do we keep our kids Catholic, or even more generally just Christian? For many of us, passing on the faith becomes just another thing on the to-do list: RE classes, bake sales and parish raffles, youth group field trips. But I am convinced that the key to passing on the faith is living it ourselves. Passing on the faith means passing on a relationship with Christ that is central and life-giving. Such a relationship, like any relationship, takes time and effort.”

Understanding the Mechanics of the Incarnation: An Interview with Larry Chapp by Artur Rosman: “And it is in this deep level of existential intimacy that God interfaces with creation, not as a foreigner who comes to plunder, but as the very act of Being that makes nature, nature.”

Koch-hold at Catholic University by Morning’s Minion, Vox Nova: “Recently, the new business school at the Catholic University of America (CUA) received a decent donation from the Koch Brothers. In response to a barrage of justifiable criticism, university president John Garvey and business school dean Andrew Abela penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal declaring that they would keep the money and that their accusers could take a flying leap. If this is an exaggeration, it is only a slight one. The tone of the piece is petulant and hyper-defensive. Clearly, the critics have hit a nerve.”

Crisis grips a fragile new South Sudan by Chris Herlinger, NCR: “But in the two-years-plus since its July 2011 independence, South Sudan has found itself embroiled in internal political battles that have destabilized the young nation, weakening its already fragile social and humanitarian fabric.”

Uganda’s Anti-Gay Laws by Michael Sean Winters: “The Christian Church must learn how to promote family life without attacking the human dignity of gay men and women.”

Women Lose Most When Parenthood Isn’t Valued by Ashley McGuire, Family Studies: “All the can-women-have-it-all conversations in the world are futile until American society once again appreciates parenthood as the most important human work there is. Are millennials up to the task?”


South Sudan at a Crossroads: World’s Newest Nation at Risk

South Sudan faces its sternest challenge yet, as a political struggle in the upper echelons of power threatens to engulf the world’s newest nation in a full-scale civil war with ethnic overtones. Fighting appears to have intensified even though rival factions recently signed a cease-fire, intended to suspend the five-week long hostilities, which has claimed over a thousand lives and displaced more than half a million people from their homes.

The onus is on key stakeholders—at the national, regional, and international levels—to  react swiftly to ensure that the agreement is implemented fully, afford the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) the necessary support to protect civilians,  and promptly address growing humanitarian concerns.

There are several underlying factors behind the instability in South Sudan— fragile statehood, widespread poverty, and prevalent insecurity. However, the trigger to the latest tragic episode points to the heavy clashes that erupted in Juba on December 15th of last year, after President Salva Kiir accused former Vice President Riek Machar (who was removed from office in July 2013) of leading an attempted coup.

Machar has denied the charge, but praised the rebels’ capture of two key oil producing states—Jonglei and Unity. Machar has also publicly criticized President Kiir and has vowed to challenge the incumbent for leadership of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).  This has resulted in politicians settling their scores on the battlefield, just a few years after the success of a long struggle to earn independence, which came in July 2011.

Of greater concern is the ethnic dimension of the heavy fighting, which has largely pitted soldiers against one another from the two largest ethnic groups—Dinka and Lou Nuer—within the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), groups that are politically aligned with the President and former Vice President, respectively. Both sides have been accused of targeting civilians based on their ethnicity, as evidenced by a spike in inter-communal violence across the country. In December alone, an estimated 2,000 Lou Nuer attacked Dinka civilians sheltered at a UNMISS base in Jonglei State, killing 11 people, including two UN peacekeepers, showing a disturbing disregard for international law.

Moreover, approximately 5,000 Lou Nuer fighters known as the “White Army” have joined Machar’s forces—estimated at 10,000 regular soldiers—which are fighting government troops. Astute observers suggest that the SPLA are gaining the momentum, particularly in major urban centers in the greater Upper Nile region, but retreating rebels still pose a military threat. Still, a military solution, on account of historical precedent, is a poisoned chalice considering the ethnic component and cyclical nature of the violence.  For the sake of civilian lives, a peaceful resolution to the crisis should be the way forward.

The severity of the situation prompted a swift response from Washington, with the current administration having invested political capital and real money in the country’s genesis. The United States got the Security Council to commit an additional 5,500 peacekeeping troops and has been working with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to organize peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which led the warring factions agreeing to a cease-fire. US President Barack Obama welcomed the agreement signed on January 24th as a first step toward ending the civil strife, but urged the leadership to immediately and fully implement the deal.

While calling for the cessation of hostilities and the release of 11 politicians arbitrarily detained by the government in Juba, the agreement failed to address a key rebel demand—withdrawal of Ugandan troops fighting alongside government forces.  The unfortunate record of broken agreements continues as both sides accuse each other of violating the truce amid increased fighting. Rebels accused government forces allied with the Justice and Equality Movement—a Darfur-based rebel group—of taking advantage of the cessation of hostilities to make inroads into rebel-held territory in Unity State.

Rebels have also clashed with the SPLA in Upper Nile region, with allegations of the latter killing civilians, a charge the government denies. Further complicating matters has been the slow deployment of the monitoring and verification team to oversee the cease-fire, and there is no agreed-upon date for the release of political prisoners. These are concerns that must be addressed to revive the already tenuous cease-fire, as fresh talks are slated to resume imminently.

Yet these steps will not suffice to fully address the root causes that have led to the current upheaval and which has brought the country on the brink of civil war. United to End Genocide reached out to citizens, civil society leaders, women, youths, and academics directly affected by the crisis to hear their thoughts on the next steps. These include: security sector reform to improve an unprofessional national army that is deeply-divided along ethnic and ideological lines; an inclusive and comprehensive dialogue; the institution of a truth and reconciliation commission; investigation into the killings and accountability for perpetrators; and last but not least, a constitutional review to limit power and install fixed term limits for the presidency.

The global community owes it to the people of South Sudan to take the necessary actions that will avert a further escalation of violence.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Family values hypocrisy by EJ Dionne: “Politicians talk about family values but do almost nothing to help families. They talk about parental responsibility but do almost nothing to help parents. They talk about self-sufficiency but do precious little to make self-sufficiency a reality for those who must struggle hardest to achieve it.”

Ideas From a Manger By Ross Douthat: “The secular picture, meanwhile, seems to have the rigor of the scientific method behind it. But it actually suffers from a deeper intellectual incoherence than either of its rivals, because its cosmology does not harmonize at all with its moral picture.”

The Case for Accomodating Nursing Mothers by Beth Haile: “Women who want to nurse shouldn’t feel like they are sacrificing their careers or a robust feminism if they choose to do so.”

Preparing a generation of ‘Francis bishops’ by John Allen, NCR: “If those postulates are correct, we can draw some early conclusions about what a ‘Francis bishop’ looks like — ideological moderates with the broad support of their fellow bishops and a real commitment to the social Gospel.”

Love my neighbour as myself? I don’t think so by Mathew Block, First Things: “The idea that poverty is someone else’s concern—that I bear no personal responsibility in caring for my neighbours—is a regrettable consequence of self-centered North American individualism: If it doesn’t impact me directly, then it’s not my problem.”

New Delhi: archbishop, priests and nuns arrested during peaceful demonstration by Asia News: “Police in New Delhi arrested Archbishop Anil JT Couto, as well as priests and nuns from his diocese, during a peaceful march for the rights of Dalit Christians and Muslims.”

The Bipartisan Pre-K Push by Conor Williams: “The debate over public early childhood programs isn’t going away anytime soon, so we owe it to ourselves to make sure that expansions of these programs are designed with both kids and their parents in mind.”

In Remembrance: Reading the Christmas Letters of Jean Bethke Elshtain (1941-2013) by John D. Carlson, Religion & Politics: “Elshtain’s Augustinian preoccupation with the limits of politics necessarily implies that there are other heights and hopes, other surges and swells, of human life that no polity can create—and that only morally deficient polities seek to destroy. What is so theologically revealing about the limits of politics is the capacious room left open for so much else: for life’s abundant ‘goodness that overflows the boundaries of the self and invites all to join in.’”

Eating Salt Together: The Real Life of a Home by John A. Cuddeback, Family Studies: “Home—the very word should resonate with feelings of warmth, belonging, togetherness. It should be the most reliable place of real personal intimacy, the surest antidote to the great bane of human existence: loneliness. But more and more, it is not.”

Capitol Exhortations by John Carr: “House Republicans are seeking major cuts in food stamps over reductions in agricultural subsidies, practicing priority for the rich and well-connected. Until the pope’s challenge, Washington had been silent about pervasive poverty and its structural causes, with apparent acceptance of high joblessness, stagnant wages and destructive pressures on families.”

Catholic education reflects shift from North to South by John Allen: “Of the 1.2 billion baptized Roman Catholics on the planet today, two-thirds live outside the West, a share that’s expected to reach three-quarters by mid-century. While Catholic populations in Europe decline, sub-Saharan Africa’s Catholics shot up by almost 7,000 percent in the 20th century and continue to grow. According to Vatican statistics released Thursday, the same broad trajectory runs through the enterprise of Catholic education.”

Political Strife in South Sudan Sets Off Ethnic Violence by NY Times: “After President Salva Kiir announced that his government had headed off a coup attempt by his former vice president last week, South Sudan was tossed into uncertainty and upheaval. Hundreds are believed to have been killed in the capital, Juba, with thousands more fleeing into the bush to escape the violence.”

Response to Samuel Gregg’s criticism of Evangelii Gaudium by Morning’s Minion, Vox Nova: “A whole political movement continues push for tax cuts for the rich combined with a weaker social safety net for the poor. The only justification for these policies is that they will “trickle down” in the form of growth and jobs. They have not. They never will. They lead to an economy of exclusion. The pope understands all of this, but I’m not sure Samuel Gregg does.”

Advent, Counterculture, and Prayer by Jennifer Owens, Daily Theology: “As a culture, we suffer from this consumerism, this compulsive desire to acquire more than we need that leaves the economically poor without enough and, ironically, leaves us feeling empty, the more we acquire.  It comes from a place of insecurity, of fear that we will not be seen as ‘good enough’ in the eyes of the world if we don’t have the right ‘stuff’ in life.”